Trying oils

I have a new painting sitting upside down on my easel at the moment, drying. It’s the last stage of production before I can take it down to the gallery and put it up for sale. At least, that’s what I thought. However, apparently with oils I have to be a tad more patient.

Morning Light over Beaufort Range
Oil on Canvas, 12″ x 24″

Patience is a tough lesson for me. I am used to finishing an acrylic, letting it dry a day, turning it over, adding the hanging hardware, naming it and then putting it up on the wall at Artique Artists’ Cooperative Gallery. Oils are a totally different medium! I was partway through this painting, working from sky to sea, and having just finished the background mountains, when I realized…I haven’t put on the hanging hardware!

I thought about this for a while. The paint was wet, and for all I knew, it might be wet for weeks. If I couldn’t hanging it on a wall…any wall…where would I put it to dry off? Luckily, I am married to a husband with a workshop, and in that workshop is a vice attached to the workbench. I gathered some pieces of foam and a towel and headed down to the basement with my painting. With a little fan-angling, the canvas stood upright, with the vice only pressing on the lower wood backing, and I could attach the screws and wire.

In June, I took a four-week oil painting workshop led by hyper-realist artist Lucas Kratochwil. Lucas now lives in Roberts’ Creek, yet comes from Patagonia and a family of artists. He has created astonishing paintings of the mountains around Whistler, and I was drawn to learn how to capture snow effectively on canvas. It meant purchasing a small collection of oils and I chose to use Holbein-Duo Aqua oils for their ease of cleanup and reduced toxicity. Together with 60+ other people from around the world, and using Zoom, Lucas painstakingly took us through the creation of a beautiful picture of Whistler mountain with Black Tusk in the distance. (Check out his upcoming workshops to see if one speaks to you.)

Since then, I have wanted to put my oils to use again, and recently the view across the Salish Sea from our living room was stunning. We look out onto the Comox glacier, and a group of peaks called the Beaufort Range, with the northern end of Texada Island in the foreground. Many photos later and I had enough reference material to start.

So, trying a new medium is exciting, and I would definitely recommend it. Just remember there are rules attached to oils that force a little patience, a little time and a degree of respect for the process.

What medium do you use in your art, and have you been trying a different medium recently? Have you tried oils? If so, what do you think? I’d love to hear back from you.

Getting it Done

Sometimes, a good rainy month means plenty of time indoors at the easel to finish off old projects and start some new. Today, I finished my second painting of the month, which feels good.

Another Fall Day
28″ x 22″ acrylic on canvas

As you know from previous posts, I have been working with a group of artists, visiting and painting in some very beautiful locations up and down our coast. A couple of weeks ago, we picked a sunny fall day to sit at Lindsay Park on Cranberry Lake, under the falling leaves, until the cold swept into our bones and it was time to head home for the day.

When I arrive at an en plein air location, I take a series of photographs to check where I want to work from and, on this occasion, I chose a different spot for a soft pastel rough sketch. So, it wasn’t until I was home that I realized my photos of the scene above were far nicer than the scene I spent time on.

I prepared a 28″ x 22″ canvas with gesso and chose a dark purple ground. From that, I wiped away just a few areas that would need to capture the light. I liked it at this stage…and thought that perhaps just a 30-minute work on canvas would do – it could be a new “style” for me – but I knew I had to keep going.

I have used a bright yellowy-green on various paintings in the past and always loved it. It is eye-catching and warm, and instantly adds a “happiness” to the painting. At this very minimalist stage, I thought about leaving the painting as it was, once again, but in the end continued.

I chose three of the trees in my photograph, leaving out one that was on the far right, and painted the major tree scaffolding over the sky and lake in an almost black combination of Van Dyke brown and ultramarine blue. Palette knife and light molding gel added texture to the tree trunks.

It was then a case of painting on the millions of leaves. The one thing that really got me having to think, consult my reference photos, think again, ask family and friends for suggestions, think again and finally do it, was making the sun shine as brightly as I could. My photo had the sun flaring because I had stood at an angle where the sun was partly hidden by branches in order to take the photo. This flaring caused rainbow-like colours to “ray” out, and the only way of making the sun look like the sun and bright enough for the painting was to copy that as closely as I could.

So, if you see the original (at the top of this post), you will see how I have attempted to do that. I am still very much a student of the elements and I have by no means totally captured the sun’s brilliance as much as I would have liked…but I think I have come close to it.

Summertime at Block Bay
16″ x 12″ acrylic on canvas

Oh, and before I close, I mentioned that I had finished two paintings this month. The first was to actually finish one started at Block Bay on Powell Lake. You may recall, in one of the previous posts, the unfortunate event of a gust of wind taking my palette of paints out of my hands and dropping it into the lake. Here’s Summertime at Block Bay.

I hope November has been a good month for you. I would love to see what art projects you have been working on during this rainy time of year, and what elements of nature you find challenging to paint.

Podcast companion

Sometimes, having a conversation playing in the background, especially an interesting one, can motivate art at the easel.

In process: Back alley coreopsis

I’m talking about tuning into Podcasts, although really this could be a family conversing, coffee shop chatter, a radio program, or, I guess music. It could be an audio book or a webinar, potentially even a Zoom meeting so long as you don’t need to be there on video and participating.

Lately, I have been tuning into Youngman Brown’s “Your Creative Push” and I am finding his resource of almost 400 episodes worth exploring. He is taking a break right now from podcasting, so it is a great chance to research the archives and pick what suits you for today.

Take, for instance, this conversation with Martha Beck. There is a lot to digest from this episode, and one take-away is to tune into your gut when considering a pursuit. Whatever it might be – and since this is the Artists’ Journey, let’s say a painting subject – consider the idea. Do you want to spend 10, 20 or more hours detailing a painting of, say, back alley coreopsis, like the one I am currently creating? Would something with detail like that make your stomach turn/churn or excite you? (Honestly, I must have spent more than 20 hours on it already and I keep finding things to do!)

Another inspiring conversation Youngman had is with artist James Gurney. I just listened to this yesterday, and it speaks to what I will be doing today in about an hour – heading outside to do some art. Something small and quick, or something that takes all day – regardless of what it is – if it is furthering your art experience, it will be a healthy pursuit. Gurney suggests giving chance to explore different mediums, not caring whether the end result is show-worthy or sellable. That, the best education in art comes from doing.

Today, I will be cycling off to a location with lots of cover. There is a low cloud drizzle so I will be experimenting with soft pastels on coloured paper. This isn’t my usual medium, but I tried it last week in the fog and it seemed perfect for the day.

As we were working, the fog started clearing and by the end of a few hours the sun was hot and everything had changed. I personally preferred it foggy – just for its mysterious quality, and sitting beside the shore with birds calling but unseen was magical.

So, have a listen to Your Creative Push and let me know what you think. Then, grab your art supplies – especially something you are unfamiliar with using – and head outdoors. It is only early October and there is still lots you could interpret from 3D to 2D so go for it!

Drawing More from Art

When you choose a spot for plein air painting and the wind picks up and takes your paints away, what do you do?

It happened to me. Two Saturdays ago it was the Grand Prix of Art 2020. This is an annual en plein air painting challenge based in Steveston, BC. Because of Covid, the event became virtual and thus, international.

As you may know, a few of us get together regularly to paint or draw outside. The Upper Sunshine Coast is full of spectacular locations for exquisite compositions, and so it was that on August 29, we arrived at Block Bay at the edge of Powell Lake. As you can see, it is a lovely location. As you cannot see, it was very windy.

The Grand Prix is a 3-hour painting challenge. I was excited to be painting outside again. I had refreshed all of my acrylics in my colour palette, and had found a way to prop up the broken leg of my outdoor tripod easel. My canvas was prepped with orange as a base and I was ready!

I sat beside a large horizontal log, which was the barrier before a long drop to the lake. Just as I opened my palette of colours, the wind picked up and flew my palette over the log and down into the water. We could see it bobbing around, but it couldn’t be reached.

Luckily, I had driven to the spot, and it was only a 10-minute drive to get home. So off I went to replenish my paints (I managed to forget my white paint!), and picked up another palette. This photo is me once I got back. Note the bungee cords holding the palette to the seat and my canvas to the easel.

With only an hour left, all I could do was a very brief “block in”, which will be worked on at home without the interference of wind!

This summer, I have generally taken my sketch book to en plein air outings – that probably would have resulted in a more successful endeavour at Block Bay! Since the Grand Prix, we have been to two more locations. The next was Lang Bay Fish Hatchery. The Lang Bay river was flowing fast and a sunny day in the forest at the river’s edge provided lovely dappled lighting. I got about halfway to the end of completing my sketch of that site and will definitely finish it (middle sketch in the photo below).

And yesterday’s en plein air was at 3-Mile Bay, again on Powell Lake’s shoreline (first picture on the left). There is even more to finish there.

I am accumulating quite a number of sketches and I feel like my drawing abilities are improving (if only I could finish my drawings before heading home). Drawing in ink doesn’t allow for errors, and is a great way to train the eye to see lights and darks.

Have you picked up a pen and gone with some paper to some lovely outdoor location? How did your drawing turn out? I’d love to see some posts.

Drawing is at the heart

So often I hear that to really be able to paint, one needs to be able to draw. So, for my birthday, I helped my husband decide on a gift by giving him a wish list. It worked! What arrived in the mail was “Beginning Drawing Atelier” by Juliette Aristides.

This is a sketchbook, and it is not for the faint at heart. It requires that you get out the pencils and start drawing within its covers.

I have an old set of pencils that I have carried around for perhaps two decades. They range from 8H to 8B and are now in need of sharpening 🙂

I have been learning a lot during this time of Covid precautions. Most of my learning has been through Youtube or podcasts or personal websites. It was nice to receive this hard-cover book and have something tangible to read and react to.

I finished reading the book about a month ago, and have since been trying to catch up on all of the exercises. Hopefully I am not upsetting copyright by posting this. This is what to expect, and is near the end of the book. The exercises start off much more simply.

I am reminded that not every piece of art needs to be wall-ready. I get so caught up in painting and trying to get to a product that I feel good about selling, that it is nice to relax a little and “play”.

I hope this inspires you to grab a few pencils and try drawing. I found Juliette’s book on Amazon, or you could try her website.

Holiday inspiration

There’s nothing quite like getting away from it all to find the peace and quiet to get the pens and paper out and start drawing. With a recent sailing trip to beautiful, remote locations, I have four drawings to bring home.

When I started carting my art supplies around in the sailboat with less than 200 sq ft living space, I realized that I needed to pare down to essentials. So, I just take a bag of pens and some paper.

With a rainy day, I balanced on tippy toes on the bottom step leading into the sailboat cabin and looked across at a small islet. The tide was going out and the boat was swinging on its anchor – all the while my toes were going numb. So, I couldn’t spend much time getting details of rocks and seaweed.

Each time the boat swung around to my chosen view, I added more to the picture, and because the tide was going out, I started at the bottom and worked my way up…otherwise I would have been there for hours! My toes told me when it was time to quit.

On a much sunnier day, I wandered off on my own to see how a lagoon looked with the tide out. I perched on a tripod stool on uneven ground, with my feet soggy from exiting the kayak. A small pool held reflections between two islets and, luckily for me, two people were in the perfect place when I arrived. I didn’t have much time to capture them, and I forgot to take a photo (and would you believe these were actually two women…but they came out like men on my scribbles) before they finished chatting and moved away. I am still getting used to the Promarker pens. Biting insects, particularly around my ankles, told me when it was time to go.

Laundry day meant time on my hands to play around with some foliage. It was a dry, sunny day and I sat in the shade in a beautiful Adirondack seat. My husband says this plant is “horse’s snoot”. It was a dreary looking specimen, and the picture was going to just start with this and move onto other grasses, but when laundry was done, so was I.

Beside the horse’s snoot was another plant, which I should know the name of as I have it in my garden at home, but it escapes me. Out of all four drawings, I enjoyed this one most. There were no biting insects, I was not waiting for anything to be done, my body was not hurting and I could take my time.

It doesn’t take a holiday to get the drawings started, and motivation for art can be found in all sorts of places. I do find, however, that looking at each of these drawings transports me back to those places, to what I heard, and felt, and smelt as I worked away. In some respects, bringing drawings home is more effective than bringing home photographs, for capturing the essence of place.

I’d like to know what you think: do you find that your own depiction of a place through art brings it back to you more or less than a photograph?

The Art of Seeing – Vermeer

I am one of the first to say that I learn more from contemporary artists than artists of the past. But, I should now change that. I just watched the most interesting documentary about Vermeer, and I hope you will, too.

Johannes Vermeer lived only some 42 years, and left no written details about who he was and how he lived. However, clues through a close inspection of his paintings show a man of incredible grace, someone who could project the image his viewers would see, guide their eyes like an illusionist and reward us with the tiniest, yet essential, detail. He also loved women.

Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson

The documentary provides expert opinion that digs deep into how Vermeer created his images. From the colour of the ground layer, and glaze upon glaze of thin then thick paint to build up forms without harsh edges to the finishing touches of light, he was a master of colour. Vermeer painted wet on wet and his paintings look almost out of focus. But, focus is exactly what he excelled at – the focus of the viewer’s eye into the painting to see just what Vermeer wanted the viewer to see.

He played with his surroundings. He brought in angles, took out shadows, emphasized some aspects, sent others into darkness. He took light and made it work, and didn’t need to be accurate to what was in view. He tilted mirrors, added in his painting easel, removed one of the easel’s legs because it just would have crowded the image, various changes that really could not possibly be accurate…all to narrate a scene and tell the viewer what he wanted the viewer to see.

I could go on. Suffice to say, please take one hour to watch the documentary. There is so much held in this description of such an incredible master that a beginner, intermediate, even a seasoned old great can learn the art of seeing and adapt future paintings to reflect this knowledge.

I hope you enjoy the documentary. Let me know what you think and whether it will change how you paint, even in the smallest of ways. I’m off to build up layers of glazes and soften some edges.


Almost every artist signs the face of their image. The signature, often placed in the bottom right corner, claims the painting to be by a particular artist. For me, I took a long time to feel comfortable taking a different tack.

For ages I agonized about my signature. Part of the worry was a slip of the brush and messing up my picture. Another worry was making my signature too big and taking away from the image. A third worry was not being able to control such a thin line…all these worries over something so simple.

I look at a lot of art and I look at a lot of signatures. Some are names in full, some just one name, some are just initials, and others are not signatures so much as unique marks. Sometimes, I cannot help but look at the signature that takes up a large portion of the image. I often find myself marvelling at the control it takes to make a signature look the same time after time, the intricate flare and detail some artists engage.

I got married 10 years ago and changed my last name. This meant changing my signature. I remember it came quite naturally to encompass my new last name into a flowing signature that was uniquely mine. I didn’t want to use the same signature on my art, however, so the process started again for coming up with something that I could feel was mine.

I ended up using a combination of initials and arrows. It’s a design that reflects me, reflects my last name, and is simple and easy to remember. My paintbrush – the 00 that I use for this – flows without too much trouble, and I use a colour that is already in the painting.

My biggest statement – to myself, really, as placement of a signature is purely a personal decision – is to place my signature along the side of my painting, always low down on the right. This works because most of my paintings are on deep canvases. However, I have made a few pieces on paper and then I have to place it on the front, but when I do my signature is tiny and hardly noticeable.

“I was here”
Acrylic on Evolon Paper 12″ x 18″

Here’s a challenge for you. This painting was created on Evolon paper and I framed it. Please excuse the reflections that are seen on the glass – it is on display at our local gallery. So, the challenge is: can you see my signature? It is on there, visible, but hopefully not too visible.

So, where do you sign your pictures and how do you sign them? Is signing your work a challenge for you? Have you given it much thought? I’d love to hear back.

All About Pricing

Within a year after I left my nine-to-five job and I was starting to amass a number of paintings in our basement, I asked my artist friend Ursula Medley to take a look at my work and tell me if I was ready for our town’s art gallery.

A couple of decades ago local artists banded together, created a for-profit collective and rented space. Artique Artists’ Cooperative has moved location twice, and is still promoting only local art. Ursula was a member of the cooperative, and many years ago, when I first arrived in Powell River, it was Ursula who taught me how to use oils and acrylics.

With a few tips from Ursula on how to impress the jury, and her encouragement, I filled out my Artique application and submitted three paintings to be judged. Artique allows all sorts of 2D and 3D art, however, it must be of commercial quality. And, each piece needed to be priced.

Where do you start when setting a price? “Googleopedia” always comes up with sage advice. I recall watching a video when the presenter chastised artists for setting the price bar too low. “Nobody should be below $2.50 per square inch,” he said. I found other sites that corroborated this. But, when I went into Artique and looked at the paintings currently displayed, almost none were priced so high.

I think it was another of our Powell River local artists, Rick Cepella, who suggested that buyers don’t necessarily care if a painting took more or less time to create than another of the same size. All they care about is the size of the canvas and whether the price seems appropriate. Although that might not be true for every buyer, I could see his point.

Flugelhorn Fun 24″ x 18″ framed $450

I decided to stay in keeping with my new colleagues, take Rick’s advice, and price things according to size at $1 per square inch, plus frame. And everything was great…

I have been reading up on the business of art, as there is a familiar fallacy that artists are starving, or that artists do not have a head for business. I don’t want to be one of those artists. There is a lot of information available about running a successful art business, and lots of that information will be shared here in this Artists’ Journey blog. However, this post is about pricing so I should stick with that for the moment!

It is only recently I have begun to increase my prices to reflect five years of experience, changing quality of work, how I feel when I sell a newer piece that perhaps took longer to create, and because it is the number one suggestion from business experts.

I increased my prices to $1.50 per square inch in the spring. I wrote to all of the purchasers of my paintings so far – termed “collectors” in the business world – and let them know. It’s not a huge jump, but when you think about it, it does increase the value of the paintings previously bought.

Islands of Magic, 28″ x 22″ $925

But boy, I just finished this 28″ x 22″ painting that according to my new calculation should be offered for $925! That’s about $300 more than I have charged before.

I don’t know whether I have done my pricing correctly and whether there is a “one shoe fits all” equation. And so I ask: How have you managed to price your work? Is pricing an issue for you? Do you use a calculation like I have set out here, or estimate an hourly compensation? Do you even price your work? I would love to hear back from you, because it could help others who are just setting out and looking for some clarity.

So, deep breath in, here I am world! Let’s see what happens along this quest to be business savvy in this land of creative souls.

Another Day Outside

It’s Friday again! Although, as I write this, it is raining once more – truly an unusual event for our coastline – this morning was pretty perfect for sitting outside and drawing.

If you remember, my post last Friday was of visiting our en plein air location in the pouring rain. I ran around and took reference photos then retreated to the dry interior of my vehicle. Today, being much nicer weather, brought quite a parade of visitors to our painting spot.

Mermaid Cove access ramp and artists

Mermaid Cove is named for a divers’ attraction. A mermaid stands up from the floor of the ocean about 50 feet below the surface. A concrete ramp leads down into the water, which I presume the divers use, and which no doubt works well for wheelchairs, too.

Two of my colleagues chose the ramp as a setup place for their work. Their view along the jagged coastline was beautiful.

For me, I went to a spot I had found last week and narrowed down the view considerably to just include a bit of island, headland and rocks. I am still on a mission to “master” rocks.

I am not sure whether you can tell, but there is a person in the photo. In fact, there were lots of people. This is one of the “joys” of painting in public outdoor spaces. Within 10 minutes of setting up, children were everywhere. An inflatable made its way into the water with kids inside, rowing out to the marker buoy above the mermaid. Their delightful banter and excitement was quite lovely company. They were good at finding snakes – there were a few basking in the warmth – and crabs and starfish.

Anyway, I quickly sketched out a thumbnail to make sure I wanted to spend a few hours on the scene, then drew it out on the Strathmore 400 mixed media card I used once before. Using the Promarkers, I set about mapping tones as best I could. These granite rocks are ideal for drawing, but they are difficult to get right with colour. If I did this again, I would not use the salmon colour on the rocks as it stands out too much from the rest of the scene – in fact, that’s all I see when I look at this. But, with pens there is no going back. I might grey over it to dull it down. I am getting more used to the Promarkers and like them for these short, small creations.

Have you been out yet to sketch/draw/paint a local scene? If so, feel free to post the image on The Artists’ Journey Facebook page.